“You’re asking yourself, if I’ve got the security codes, why don’t I go in, grab it for myself.”
“No, actually… I was wondering… WHAT’S SHE DOING ON THIS SHIP?”
Firefly is serialised – much moreso than I realised, seeing as the exposition is handled quite elegantly – but the heist-of-the-week is generally self-contained. The overall effect of Firefly‘s approach to plotting is that each episode feels like a day in the life, but there’s an underlying forward momentum; another way of putting it is that it’s going somewhere, but it’s taking it easy getting there (by point of contrast, I’ve seen people complain about Cowboy Bebop‘s genuinely glacial and purely episodic structure by contrasting it with Firefly). “Trash” is the show’s second sequel episode in a row, bringing back Saffron (who I will now refer to exclusively as YoSaffBridge) when Mal stumbles upon her when he’s finishing up a job and she’s right in the middle of one.
Thematically speaking, the episode doesn’t really tread any new ground, and of course the whole point of YoSaffBridge is that the only definitely true thing about her character is that she’ll steal from you. No, this episode is “Ariel” or “The Train Job” minus the profound character beats; a fun heist story that exists mainly as a jumping off point for Whedonesque dialogue and ownage, both of which it delivers in spades. The profound beat isn’t YoSaffBridge opening up to Mal (I’m going to be honest, despite Mal probably getting her number, I don’t trust her outburst one bit), it’s the revelation that Mal had her figured from the start and set up a contingency ahead of time.
“How long have you been with him?”
“Oh, hah! We’re not together.”
“He’s my husband.”
“Well who in the damn galaxy ain’t?!”
The last episode with YoSaffBridge was something of a win for idealism, as Mal could lecture her on how he won over her because he had friends to rely on; despite him now lecturing her on her failure to live the good wife life, this is a win for cynicism, as Mal’s abject refusal to make the same mistake twice is what leads to the total ownage. I suppose that is a major character beat for him – Mal is equal parts passionate idealism and clear-eyed cynicism, one that lets him walk a very particular path that only someone with both those traits in equal measure could go.
The flipside of that ownage is that a man is lecturing a woman about using sex and love as a weapon, and I have some conflicting emotions on that. On one level, I have seen way too many fictional men who somehow lose their spines and brains when a beautiful woman so much as says hello; the wannabe-activist part of me wants to say that showing men ‘at the wiles’ of beautiful women contributes to rape culture and ‘asking for it’ narratives, but the real reason is that speaking as an extremely awkward man on the spectrum, I have never had any trouble retaining my sense of self-worth on the rare occasion a woman has tried to use me like that, and any time I see it in fiction I just feel insulted and unsympathetic towards the man. On another level, what we have is a man, written by a man, wagging his finger at a woman for controlling men with sex. I unfortunately have nothing more to say on it other than “it feels wrong”.
There is one genuinely profound scene though. Simon and River are confined to their room while YoSaffBridge is running around, and in the process, River tells Simon about Jayne selling them out on Ariel. I think at this point, Simon hasn’t figured out she’s psychic, and simply assumes she’s figured it out with intuition; nevertheless, he takes it seriously, and when Jayne injures himself on the heist, Simon takes advantage of it to deliver one hell of a monologue, combining ownage, recognition, and an olive branch:
“You’re in a dangerous line of work, Jayne. Odds are you’ll be under my knife again, often. So I want you to understand one thing very clearly: No matter what you do or say or plot, no matter how you come down on us… I will never, ever harm you. You’re on this table, you’re safe. ‘Cause I’m your medic. And however little we may like or trust each other, we’re on the same crew. Got the same troubles, same enemies, and more than enough of both. Now, we could circle each other and growl, sleep with one eye open, but that thought wearies me. I don’t care what you’ve done, I don’t know what you’re planning on doing, but I’m trusting you. I think you should do the same. ‘Cause I don’t see this working any other way.”
That’s an interesting sales pitch for ‘family’ right there, appealing to trust not because it’s the right thing to do, but because it’s the more convenient option. Civilisation advances because there are people so willing to create an ideal that they’re willing to die for it; civilisation continues to exist because most people are not willing to die and just want to get from one day to another with a minimum of fuss. Firefly suggests we hold onto the ideals that keep civilisation going, and throw out the ones that interfere with it.
(Obviously, “I can kill you with my brain” is hilarious, even moreso for Jayne’s silent reaction)
- I have no proof whatsoever, but I feel in my gut like this episode was a heavy influence on Kasumi’s heist in Mass Effect 2. That mission’s level design reminds me really strongly of Durran’s home. (Firefly in general is a very strong influence on the Mass Effect series).
- Once again, laser guns are overengineered pieces of crap when it turns out the Lasseter doesn’t work.